The Content of the Mystery Revealed to Paul: Part 2 of 3 (series: Lessons on Ephesians)

by John Lowe
(Woodruff, S.C.)

Three times in this short paragraph Paul uses the word “mystery” (3:3, 4, 9). In English a mystery is something dark, obscure, secret, and puzzling. What is mysterious is incomprehensible, even bizarre at times. In Christianity there are no obscure mysteries reserved for a spiritual elite. On the contrary the Christian mysteries are truths which, although beyond human discovery, have been revealed by God and so now belong openly to the whole church. This mystery includes Christ and His new people, which would include both Jewish and Gentile believers Withal praying also for us, that God would open unto us a door of utterance, to speak the mystery of Christ, for which I am also in bonds (Colossians 4:3)..


So, what is the mystery? Or mysteries? It has been defined as an undisclosed fact existing in only the foreknowledge of God. The Gospel, which is sometimes called a mystery, the mystery of the Gospel, the mystery of godliness, and the mystery of faith. The several doctrines of the Gospel are the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven; such as a trinity of persons in the Godhead, the union of the two natures in Christ, the saints’ union to Christ, and communion with Him, the resurrection of the dead, and the change of living saints, and the whole doctrine of salvation by Christ, of justification by His righteousness, pardon by His blood, and atonement by His sacrifice. All this was made known to the apostle, not in a mere theoretical and speculative way, but in a spiritual and saving manner; not by men, for he was not taught by men, nor did he receive it from them, but had it by the revelation of Jesus Christ, and by the spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of Him.

as I wrote afore in few words
Other versions render this clause as: “As I have already shortly written to you” (Con). “As I have already briefly told you” (TCNT). “I have already written a brief account of this” (NEB). This statement probably refers back to verses 2:14-16, in which Paul had briefly mentioned or explained this mystery in the first two chapters of this epistle, which are a brief overview of the mystery of the Gospel, in its several parts; that is, predestination, election, redemption, regeneration, and salvation by free grace.

Ephesians 3:20-21 sum up Paul’s whole message in a doxology to God the Father through Christ Jesus. It may be compared with the other more solemn doxologies in the New Testament; such as Romans 16:25, 1 Timothy 5:15-16, Jude 1:24-25, Revelation 1:6. Each has its distinctive character. Here the prevailing idea of the preceding chapters is the wonder and the mystery of God’s fore-ordaining love, overflowing in the riches of His grace to those who are made one with Him and with each other in Christ Jesus. Hence, God is here described as He “who is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think,” and to do all “by His power dwelling” and working in us.

4 Whereby, when ye read, ye may understand my knowledge in the mystery of Christ)

Whereby, when ye read
Paul is not speaking here to “lost” men and women, but to believers in the Lord Jesus Christ. Perhaps someone in the Ephesus Church had said they couldn’t understand what he was saying; the apostle had written many letters to this particular church. He says here, “When you read the above chapters, and seriously consider what is contained in them, you may understand my knowledge,” or “perceive my intelligence.” “When ye read,” implies that, though the mysteries of this Epistle are deep, the best way for anyone to understand them is to read his letters (2 Timothy 3:15-16{1]). By perceiving his understanding of the mysteries, they, too, will be enabled to understand⸺the view which he held of the plan of salvation, and the knowledge which he had of God‘s method of saving people, particularly of His intention in regard to the salvation of the Gentiles.By reading what he had written, they could judge his knowledge of the mystery of Christ. What he had written might be taken as the standard or evidence of his knowledge.

ye may understand my knowledge in the mystery of Christ)
This does not refer to anything “mysterious” in the person of Christ; or the union of the divine and human nature in Him; or to anything difficult to understand about the work of the atonement. It means the previously concealed doctrine that through the Messiah, the Gentiles were to receive the same privileges as the Jews, and that the plan of salvation was to be made equally free for all. This great truth had been up to that time concealed, or only partially understood, and Paul says that

he was appointed to make it known to the world. His “knowledge” on the subject, he says, could be determined by what he had said, and from that they could judge whether he was qualified to state and defend the doctrines of the Gospel. Paul evidently supposed that the knowledge which he had on that subject was of obvious value; that it was possessed by only a few; that it was important to understand it. That’s why he dwells upon it. He speaks of the glory of that truth. He traces it back to the counsels of God. He shows that it entered into His eternal plans; and he evidently felt that the truth which he had communicated in the former part of this Epistle, was among the most important that could come before the mind.

“Mystery of Christ,” may mean the mystery or revelation concerning Christ; or of which he is the author (i.e. of the secret purpose of redemption), or which is Christ. Christ himself is the great mystery of godliness, God manifest in the flesh. He is the revelation of the secret purpose of God, which had been hid for ages. Thus the apostle in writing to the Colossians says: “God would make known the riches of the glory of the mystery among the Gentiles; which (i.e. the mystery) is Christ in you, the hope of glory” (Colossians 1:27”.

5 Which in other ages was not made known unto the sons of men, as it is now revealed unto his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit;

Which in other ages was not made known unto the sons of men
That is, the mystery of Christ, and of the Gospel, was not made known to men in general, nor was it stated as clearly as it is under the Gospel dispensation. Nor was it made known to them that the Gentiles could find salvation without coming under the yoke of the Mosaic Law, and that the Jews themselves could be freed from that yoke of bondage; these were discoveries totally new, and now revealed for the first time by the Spirit of God. Some hints of it, though, were given to Adam, immediately after his fall; and the Gospel was preached to Abraham, Moses, and David, and others knew something about it; and it was given out even more fully in the times of the prophet Isaiah, and the prophets who followed him. Nevertheless, the knowledge of it was not as extensive, or as clear as it is now, for it lay hid in types and shadows, in obscure prophecies and short hints. Moreover, this may have to do particularly with the calling of the Gentiles, which is how it appears in the following clause. This was, in some measure, made known; that in Christ all the nations of the earth should be blessed, that the Messiah should be an example for the people, and the Gentiles should seek Him; that he should be the covenant of the people, and a leader and a commander of them; and that there would be a time when a great many would flock to Him; but then this was not known to many, and the time, mode, and circumstances of it were understood by only a few, so that comparatively speaking, it was not known.

as it is now revealed unto his holy apostles and prophets by the spirit.
The apostles and prophets{2] were the superior officers in the Gospel dispensation; the former being the twelve apostles of Christ, and the latter being those who had the gift of interpreting the prophecies of the Old Testament, and of foretelling things to come, having received gifts from Christ to equip them for such offices and services to which they are called, some apostles, some prophets; and to these a revelation was made of the mystery of the Gospel in general, and of the calling of the Gentiles in particular, by the Spirit, who searches the deep things of God, and reveals them, and leads into all truth; and who, by falling upon the Gentiles, as upon Cornelius and his family, and by the success which He gave to the Gospel in the Gentile world, made their calling clear and manifest.

The phrase “by the Spirit” proves that those who exercised the office of prophet in the Christian church were inspired. They were persons endowed in this religion. There is no evidence that this was meant to be a permanent order of people in the church. They were necessary for putting the church on a permanent footing, in the absence of a full written revelation, and to lead the church when the apostles were away. When God’s revelations were complete, and the doctrines of the Gospel were fully understood, the functions of the office ceased.


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